Leprosy no longer grounds for divorce: Lok Sabha passes amendments to personal laws

The Bill states that leprosy is curable now, but provisions discriminating the persons affected continued.
Leprosy no longer grounds for divorce: Lok Sabha passes amendments to personal laws
Leprosy no longer grounds for divorce: Lok Sabha passes amendments to personal laws
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In a landmark decision, the Lok Sabha passed a bill on Monday which officially excludes leprosy as grounds for divorce in India. Five marriage-related laws will be amended as a result of the passing of the bill — the Divorce Act (1869), the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act (1939), the Special Marriage Act (1954), the Hindu Marriage Act (1955), and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act (1956).

“Leprosy patients were isolated and segregated from society as the leprosy was not curable and the society was hostile to them. However, as a result of intensive healthcare and availability of modern medicine to cure the disease, the attitude of the society towards them began to change. The discriminatory provisions contained in various statutes against the persons affected with leprosy were made prior to the medical advancements rendering leprosy a curable disease. Presently, leprosy is completely curable and can be treated with multidrug therapy. However, old legislative provisions discriminating the persons affected by leprosy continued in various laws,” states the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill.

The bill was originally introduced in the Lok Sabha in August 2018.

The National Human Rights Commission first put forth the suggestion in 2008 that these changes be made, as leprosy was no longer incurable and that it did not make sense to allow for the same to be grounds for divorce. Following this, in 2010, India signed the United Nations General Assembly’s Resolution titled ‘Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.’ It sought to reduce stigma and discrimination faced affected by the disease.

In 2014, the apex court told the Centre and state governments to rehabilitate those affected by leprosy back into society. If the current bill is passed and an Act is put in place, it will help a significant impact on reducing the stigma surrounding leprosy and those afflicted with it.

While this step has been hailed as a positive effort to reduce discrimination surrounding the disease, some like AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi opposed the same. "Do not interfere in Muslim personal law. Marriage is a contract in Muslim law. So any kind of concealment is a ground for disease in any Muslim or Islamic country,” he said, according to the Indian Express.

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